The focus of this research inquiry is the quality and effectiveness of civics education in the United States. Our research team conducted this study with a qualitative approach. The research questions that guide the study are as follows:
- What is the state of civics education in the United States?
- What criteria and approaches are common in state civic standards?
- What is the quality of content of civics education standards?
- What guidelines are offered regarding best practices for delivering civics education?
- How do standards prioritize high-order thinking and active participation? Within the framework of Bloom’s taxonomy, how common are learning objectives that require students to create or produce original work?
- In what ways do the standards position students as emerging active citizens by supporting them in practices of relevant and accessible civic engagement?
This research analyzes the quality and effectiveness of civics education by reviewing publicly accessible state standards for civics learning. The analyses of the quality of civics education standards are categorized into three themes: content, delivery, and orientation.
The core focus of our research is the orientations towards civic education found at different levels of K-12 education in the states. Our framework for assessing the orientation theme is defined by three distinct ways that civics education can be approached. These three categories are based on existing key approaches to civics education and are as follows: bureaucracy-oriented, character-oriented, and participatory-oriented. Within each of these orientations, we are looking for signs that civics curricula are approaching civics education with the attitude that citizens can act back on society instead of only acting along with it. We consider the way each orientation is represented and the extent to which each is present in a way that is reminiscent of historical fallacies.
The character-oriented approach describes approaches to civics education that center on morality and character education. Character-oriented standards are those that focus on promoting individual virtues and conceptions of morality, with or without situating civic learning in a relevant social or political context. Lin (2013) found through a synthesis of analyses of civic engagement programs that character education programs can be thought of as school-based programs that focus on promoting ethical values. Peterson’s (2011) conceptualization of character education through a neo-Aristotelian lens contends that it can connect the moral and the political and reimagine the political as being interconnected with social and civic life and practices. However, when character education takes the place of comprehensive civics education, it ends up displacing political education, as its language and aims only interact with the political sphere in a superficial sense (Suissa, 2015).
The nuances of the content and delivery of this kind of civics education are very important because a focus on controlling the demeanors or dispositions of students can be harmful and traced back to the perpetuation of inequitable social status quo within educational institutions (Love, 2019). In substance, character education can be made up of “racially coded feel-good, work-hard, and take-responsibility-for-my-actions buzzwords” that discount the systems of oppression that disenfranchise and suppress marginalized communities (Love, 2019, p. 69). Attempts to educate for certain character qualities over others can be seen as aligned with assimilationist attempts to homogenize the national population through the marginalization of certain identities and dispositions (Hemphill & Blakely, 2015; Love, 2019). Our perspective on the complexity of character education distills to the question of how states focus on qualities of “good” citizenship and whether that focus assumes a good citizen to be one who doesn’t question the legal or social structures of our democratic society through what has been named a morality of compliance (Nord, 2001).
The difference between education that produces morally compliant citizens and education that inspires critical thinking and individual deliberation is identified by Crittenden and Levine (2018) as the difference between “indoctrination” and “education in judgment.” They argue that both these approaches could be relevant sequentially for character education, as elementary age students learn the norms of society and are then taught to question them and apply personal judgment as older students. This idea stems from the scholarship of developmental psychology that explains a teacher’s function in the early stages of education as essentially drawing students inside the world that they will later grow to explore for themselves (Peters, 1966). Students should have the opportunity to come to their own conclusions about the world that they are exploring and interacting with without indoctrination aligned with certain ways of thinking and being.
The distinction between developmental stages is relevant to the discussion and analysis of character education within public education. Lin (2013) observed that character education programs are more commonly found at the elementary school level and that the values learned in these programs were found by some studies to be later correlated with becoming a personally responsible citizen, or a citizen who follows laws. It stands to reason that character education would be more easily highlighted at earlier levels of education if these are the prevailing views in developmental psychology. However, indoctrination of values and virtues may be developmentally appropriate for elementary students, but the question of whose values and ideals will dominate those sites of learning remains valid (Love, 2019).
The bureaucracy-oriented approach describes approaches to civics education that center learning that generally focuses on the nature, mechanisms, and institutions of government (Heggart & Flowers, 2019). This kind of approach is generally oriented towards rote knowledge and teacher-centered learning and away from student-centered learning. Furthermore, this approach can neglect to position students as capable of acting on behalf of a community or a society through education structured around the role of the adult and not the role of the students as citizens themselves (Payne et. al., 2019). We also characterize bureaucracy-oriented standards by a conceptualization of active civic participation that is limited to conventional forms of participation such as voting, participating in jury duty, and engaging with elected officials through conventional channels (Heggart & Flowers, 2019). We chose to categorize alternative, dissident, and unconventional forms of civic engagement as participatory-oriented in approach (Love, 2022; Peterson, 2019). In tandem with participatory-oriented models of civics education, the bureaucracy-oriented approach is crucial for a civics education that adequately prepares students as citizens who understand the structures and systems of the U.S. constitutional democracy while maintaining the agency to critically evaluate and change them.
The origins, structures, and functions of the U.S. constitutional democracy are extremely important for comprehensive civics education. It is relevant and necessary to educate students on the processes of democracy, law, and public policy. However, a bureaucracy-oriented approach that stands alone risks teaching students how to operate within the status quo rather than challenge it (Heggart & Flowers, 2019). Furthermore, a primary focus on the realms of politics and government policy may neglect to prepare students to critically influence the realm of civil society or participate in organizations oriented towards transformative social justice (Ho & Barton, 2020). Within the bureaucratic orientation, we investigate the presence of an underlying assumption that constitutional democracy, its institutions, and its laws are fixed, inherently just, and should not be questioned (Kazin & McCartin, 2006). The ideal form of bureaucracy-oriented civics education presents U.S. constitutional democracy and its documents as fluid and dynamic, changing in accordance with changes in the society, culture, and people of the country. Teaching about governmental institutions, structures, and laws should include discussion of the ways in which there are ambiguities and problems with our democracy that make it a constant work in progress.
The participatory-oriented approach describes approaches to civics education that center on active engagement in pragmatic education. This approach most closely aligns with and represents the modern trends in civics education models. A participatory approach is described by the ten proven practices presented in the 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education. The authors report that the empirically proven best practices for civics education involve “interactive and participatory practices” as “core components of a high-quality civics education” (Hansen, Levesque, Valant, & Quintero, 2018, p. 17). The C3 framework for Social Studies describes ideal civic engagement as taking many participatory forms, from “making independent and collaborative decisions within the classroom” to “starting and leading student organizations within schools” to “conducting community-based research and presenting findings to external stakeholders” (NCSS, 2013, p. 59). The National Educational Association (NEA) also identifies participatory approaches to learning such as “critical discussions of current events” and “simulations of democratic processes” as best practices for effective civics education (Litvinov, 2017). These participatory-oriented practices of civic education are nationally acclaimed recommendations for student-centered learning that is approached through project- and inquiry-based pedagogies.
In tandem with the presence of interactive and participatory practices, the participatory-oriented approach is characterized by an openness to the agency and ability of students to shape the curriculum through activist, experimental forms of civics learning that emphasize community action and grassroots organizing (Heggart & Flowers, 2019). Students should be positioned as emergent civic participants who orient their actions towards justice and social change (Heggart & Flowers, 2019; Peterson, 2019). Students from marginalized backgrounds have been shown to benefit from participatory approaches to civic learning that center the lived civic experiences of the students themselves (Clay & Rubin, 2020). Research reveals that education involving direct political participation positions young citizens from marginalized backgrounds as practitioners of civic engagement in ways that increase confidence and agency regarding civic abilities (Alvarez-Padilla, Hylton, & Sims, 2020).
Participatory-oriented standards can effectively encourage active participation with the political process and civic sphere through community service, engagement projects, simulations of the political process, significant engagement with elected officials or community organizations, and other initiatives which promote active civic engagement with the community outside of theoretical analysis or traditional forms of participation such as voting (Lin, 2013). Critical thought and communication about social issues is at the heart of these effective civic education programs (Lin, 2013). Payne et. al. (2019) argue that lived experiences are the most effective way to increase childrens’ civic abilities. Participatory pedagogy for civics education must also include education regarding dissent, activism, and civil disobedience as forms of meaningful political engagement (Love, 2022; Peterson, 2019). Education based around activism and disruption of the status quo reflects the principles of culturally relevant teaching that effectively engages students in their own learning and their own society (Ladson-Billings, 1995).
Analytical Evaluation Framework
Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy provides a framework for evaluating civic education standards and learning objectives. The highest order thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy concerns the creation of original work, which is an essential skill to develop in the context of participatory civics education. Positioning students as creators is important in all academic subjects, and within the realm of civic education the practice of these kinds of higher order thinking skills is essential. Building towards full independent citizenship must include opportunities to practice forms of participatory citizenship at an accessible level. High-quality civic education must engage students in the creation of original work, the expression of opinions, and the ownership of actions. Equitable civic education should consistently position all students as members of a community with meaningful actions and thoughts to contribute.
Requiring the highest order thinking of Bloom’s taxonomy as a standard learning objective should be normalized. This framework forms the foundation for our evaluation criteria of the expectations of civics education expressed in the standards. We utilize the framework of Bloom’s taxonomy to assess the presence of high quality participatory learning objectives in the text of each state’s civics standards. Our qualitative analysis considers the presence of higher-order thinking objectives, such as the creation of original work or projects, as necessary for an effective participatory orientation to civics education. We analyze the text of the standard learning objectives to evaluate whether there are any active verbs that indicate objectives for higher order thinking, project-based learning, or the creation of original work. Verbs such as create, design, or develop are examples of diction that indicates quality participatory objectives.
Within the theme of content, nine thematic qualitative measures were investigated: 1) the pedagogy or method of instruction; 2) the centrality of America when discussing global, ancient, or pre-colonial studies; 3) the quality of indigenous studies; 4) the balance of geographical focus between the national and state levels; 5) how international comparisons are portrayed; 6) the presence and centrality of culturally relevant pedagogy; 7) the quality of study of social movements; 8) the ideas and philosophies of citizenship; 9) the approaches to historical figures. Together, these nine measures are used as a framework to investigate the quality of content of civics education standards. We evaluated the material that is centered in the civics curricula and the way in which civic education content is presented in the state documents.
The evaluation of the pedagogy or method of instruction of civics education standards concerns the way that the state indicates the material should be taught. There is the possibility that a state does not define a pedagogy nor make any recommendation for how state educators should approach teaching. A state could also identify a pedagogy that is not based in inquiry, participation, or critical thinking; for example a pedagogy of “study.” Approaches to education that are not based in inquiry, participation, or critical thinking are forms of learning that resemble the “banking” approach to education that Freire (1971) identifies in contrast to problem-posing approaches to learning. The approaches that most value the regurgitation of information with singular right answers are those that most rob students of the opportunity to engage in meaningful and joyful learning practices (hooks, 1984). Furthermore, pedagogy should be culturally responsive in order to ensure good teaching practices that reach all students (Ladson-Billings, 1995).
Critical thinking, participatory, and inquiry based pedagogy are proposed to be most effective for learning (Educating for American Democracy, 2021; Hansen, Levesque, Valant, & Quintero, 2018). Interactive and participatory approaches to content are best educational practices for effective and engaging civic education (Hansen, Levesque, Valant, & Quintero, 2018). In particular, project-based approaches to education that center students as participatory members of the learning process are effective in positioning students as emergent active citizens and community members (Heggart and Flowers, 2019; Lin, 2013). Those states that describe a project-based and student-centered pedagogy based in inquiry, participation, and critical thinking best represent a problem-posing approach to education that can activate students’ internal motivations and empower them as emergent citizens.
The measure of the centrality of America when discussing global, ancient, or pre-colonial studies concerns the way that the state approaches the history and study of cultures and peoples outside of Eurocentric United States history and culture. In other words, this measure assesses the way the content standards approach ideas of the “other.” The history of American exceptionalism and assimilation in United States education guides the investigation of this measure by providing an example of the damage civic education can do when delivered with the intention of forced assimilation (Anzaldúa, 1987; Chavez, 2008; Chavez & Hing, 2006; Love, 2019; McDevitt & Caton-Rosser, 2009; Valenzuela, 2005). A state could indicate its orientation to global studies and ancient history to be centered around the culture and history of the United States, or to involve America-relative approaches to learning about global populations. This orientation may be indicated in may ways, potentially through the centering and highlighting of American settler colonialism as the primary experience of that historical era, or through the refusal to cast the United States in a critical light with factual discussions of genocide or xenophobia.
In evaluating this measure, we look for a critical approach to global, ancient, and pre-colonial studies that questions the negative impacts settler colonialism, politicized United States interference, and subtractive assimilation have had on oppressed populations and marginalized cultures. The rationale behind this measure is the necessity to expand civics education past American exceptionalism and Americanism, a legacy that was ingrained in the U.S. education system over the past century (Kazin & McCartin, 2006). Furthermore, this measure addresses the question of how we teach about other identities, whether it is done through their own voices or through the filter of someone else’s.
The measure of the quality of indigenous studies concerns the way that the state demonstrates specific recognition and interrogation of the genocidal mistreatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Education in the United States has been an institutional agent of oppression and exploitation that sought to assimilate indigenous children into the emergent U.S. culture and away from their own ancient cultural practices and languages (Crittenden & Levine, 2018; Hemphill & Blakely, 2015; Love, 2019; McDevitt & Caton-Rosser, 2009). A state may follow the legacy of assimilation and erasure of indigenous culture and identity by demonstrating little or no recognition of the history and ongoing presence of indigenous peoples in the Americas. A state may also present indigenous populations as if they are singularly located in the ancient past rather than teaching about indigenous peoples as embodying existing cultures and individual indigenous identities. There could also be a perfunctory recognition of the history and presence of indigenous peoples in the Americas without a sufficient interrogation of the root causes of the genocide and continued suffering inflicted on these peoples.
A sufficiently thorough recognition and interrogation of the causes and effects of genocide against the indigenous peoples of the Americas must be paired with education on the present state of indigenous communities and populations (Naseem-Rodriguez & Swalwell, 2021). We assess this measure based on how the material is discussed, how indigenous populations are referred to or described, and in what contexts indigenous studies are approached. Diverse primary accounts of indigenous histories and identities are so often excluded from education; we want to establish high expectations for what would suffice as comprehensive indigenous studies. The rationale for this assessment resides in the reparational necessity to acknowledge and disrupt the ongoing subjugation and marginalization of indigenous students and peoples in addition to the question of whether the indigenous identity is taught about through indigenous voices or only in context of settler colonialism.
The measure of the balance of geographical focus between the national and state levels concerns the way that the state situates civics education within a broad scope of contexts. A state could locate civic learning exclusively within a national focus, thus neglecting to involve students in civics education relative to the local or state level. Civics on the local level is often the most relevant for students to approach as civic actors, so any geographic focus skewed away from the local level would deprive students of the opportunity to practice civic learning within their own communities. Too heavy of a focus on the local context can also be problematic if the civic education does not progress to a national level of civic knowledge and engagement. Civic learning that is entirely grounded in the local context or that only presents national civic engagement in abstract terms excludes students from the opportunity to learn how to participate on a national level.
A state that adequately addresses civic learning within both the state and national contexts would involve students in local-level civic participation without neglecting the traditional focus on understanding the forms and structures of national U.S. government and constitutional democracy. The rationale for this measure is the importance of engaging students in tangible and participatory civics learning throughout their education, rather than presenting civics education as the knowledge of bureaucratic structures of government and constitutional democracy without any expectation for civic participation or engagement at a local level (Educating for American Democracy, 2021; Hansen, Levesque, Valant, & Quintero, 2018).
The measure of how international comparisons are portrayed concerns the question of how other countries are presented and posed in contrast to U.S. society. The approach to global studies and international comparisons could be made from a place of curiosity, where other countries are analyzed as alternative models that can be compared and contrasted to those of the U.S. society. International comparisons can also be made in harmful ways when they seem to be rhetorically leading students towards conclusions implying that the American democratic capitalist society bests all other societal models (Kazin & McCartin, 2006). The question of whether international comparisons are approached in neutral or leading ways guides our analysis of this measure.
Ideally, states would approach an idea of global citizenship that values the ways and cultures of other countries, including alternative political systems and societal structures. A transformationalist approach to global citizenship would create new patterns of inclusion as citizens transcend national boundaries to connect with people and issues and create new visions of transnational communities that are sustainable and democratic (Shultz, 2007). The presentation of other countries and cultures as equally valid to the United States is a necessary factor in enabling students to develop as global citizens. Equally, it is necessary to affirm students in their own ethnic and cultural identities, as many students in the U.S. public school system have cultural and ethnic heritage from other countries.
The measure of the presence and centrality of culturally relevant pedagogy relates to how well civics standards fit into the framework of culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995). The three pillars of culturally relevant pedagogy are cultural representation, high expectations, and challenge to the status quo. A state could demonstrate the first pillar through diverse cultural representation created by members of the marginalized groups being represented. Representation of marginalized cultural groups that is not created by members of those communities can be misleading and harmful, especially following the legacy of politically-charged misrepresentations of people and history in curricula (Hemphill & Blakely, 2015; Love, 2019).
The factor of high expectations can be visible in the diction of the state standards; when high-order thinking processes are not made requisite, the expectations of students are lowered and thus the threshold for student learning is limited (Bloom, 1956). The standard for high expectations that enable all students access to culturally relevant civics education is to have students actively participate in or create original projects that put civic agency into practice. Furthermore, students should not be limited in their own critical interpretations of civic action, which may lead to the pursuit of controversial topics or projects driven by visions of social change. Finally, the disruption of or challenge to the status quo is a key element of high-quality civics education that enables all students to grow and participate as critically engaged citizens (Love, 2022). Without a focus on challenging the status quo, civic education will persist in its irrelevance to students with marginalized identities who are not treated as full and valued civic participants within the power dynamics and imposed hierarchies of modern civic democracy.
Study of Social Movements
The measure of the quality of study of social movements pertains to questions of how historical figures, social movements, and societally significant events are approached within civics curriculum and standards. We question the degree to which people and events are investigated comprehensively and presented with nuance. The inclusion of primary-source perspectives is essential when approaching studies of social movements because secondary sources by nature filter and simplify factual and nuanced information through a subjective lens (Naseem-Rodriguez & Swallwell, 2021). The context and comparison of time and space must be considered when approaching historical events, issues, and figures, and students should have the opportunity to critically analyze the past through the lens of modern justice (Hemphill & Blakely, 2015; Love, 2019).
We investigate the degree to which civic action via protests or boycotts are presented as valid and inspirational forms of citizen-led social change. Civics should ideally be framed as the improvement of communities and societies through social movements led by the people. States that neglect this perspective in favor of ideals of patriotism or rule-following are representing a harmful vision of civics that maintains an unjust social status quo.
Ideas of Citizenship
The measure of the ideas and philosophies of citizenship relates to how the concept and reality of citizenship is approached and described within civics standards. The question of who is presented and considered as full and legitimate members of society is at the core of this qualitative measure. Many students have roots in marginalized ethnic communities that have been historically excluded from full citizenship or pressured to assimilate at the expense of their own culture (Anzaldúa, 1987; Crittenden & Levine, 2018; Love, 2019; McDevitt & Caton-Rosser, 2009). The continuum of full citizenship to second-class citizenship is still an applicable concept to modern democratic society (Rosaldo, 1994). The granting of citizenship has been tied to assimilation and nationalism throughout U.S. history, and citizenship rights have been historically limited based on race, gender, and intersectional identifiers that prevent certain groups of people from full or even partial participation in democracy (Naseem-Rodriguez & Swalwell, 2021). There should be a recognition of the ways in which marginalized communities have been historically excluded from participation in both formal democracy and high quality civics education (Payne et. al., 2019). Ideas of citizenship can be broadened towards global citizenship or can be limited to harmful assimilationist visions of U.S. citizenship.
We also evaluate the degree to which civic standards and curriculum validate all students, including those who live transnational lives involving undocumentation, as full U.S. citizens. Ideas of citizenship should address ideas of immigration and the changing realities of society and democracy that evolve with the creation and evolution of a diverse nation (Chavez, 2008). We also consider the ways that citizenship is defined through characterizations of civic responsibility and disposition. Ideally, citizens would be defined by their agency and action towards social change that betters society, not defined simply as rule-followers or participants in established social and governmental systems (Love, 2019). All students should be positioned as full citizens who belong in democracy and matter as participants in civic life, even in their youth (Payne et. al., 2019). Ideally, transformationalist ideas of global citizenship would be prominent; the connection of people and issues across national boundaries is necessary to create just democracies and new patterns of inclusion (Shultz, 2007).
Approaches to Historical Figures
The measure of the approaches to historical figures considers the ways in which civic standards approach and frame discussions around notable historical figures. We inquire into whether the framing of historical figures is centered on nuance and context or whether there is a degree of heroification involved in the presentation of these individuals. The painting of individual people as heroes is a harmful approach to historical figures that dismisses realities of social context and structural inequity (Naseem-Rodriguez & Swalwell, 2021). The heroification of individuals can create a single story about their humanity and their lasting impacts on society, when in reality all individuals are complex and nuanced beings and should be approached as such. To not learn the full stories about commonly studied figures is to consider these individuals in a simplistic vacuum of heroism rather than in the context of their positionality or complex humanity (Naseem-Rodriguez & Swallwell, 2021). In terms of civic education, heroification can alienate students from the idea that they can make a difference in society as normal people, which would potentially impede their empowerment as emergent citizens.
We evaluate the degree to which states frame the discussion of historical figures around their lasting legacies or the impact of their work, rather than around their heroism and exceptionality. In contrast to approaches centered on the heroic qualities of certain individuals, we expect standards that allow students to come to their own critical conclusions about these people and the quality and context of their lasting impacts on society. We look for states that position students to inquire about historical figures’ legacies and lasting influences without leading students to conclude that there are certain unquestioned heroes in history.
Within the theme of delivery, six qualitative measures were investigated: 1) the vagueness or specificity of content standards; 2) the accessibility, or lack thereof, for local teachers; 3) the clarity of implementation guidelines; 4) the prominence of civics education in the greater K-12 curriculum; 5) the requisites for civics education; 6) the form(s) of assessment for civic knowledge and capabilities. Together, these six measures address the “delivery” question regarding the effectiveness and accessibility of civics education standards. We are concerned with how states present the civics curriculum and how plausible it seems for local educators to be able to implement effective high-quality civics education based on the provided guidelines and standards.
The measure of the vagueness or specificity of content standards of civics education standards concerns the way that the state specifies the learning outcomes and content standards that are expected. A state that leaves terms such as “rights” or “responsibilities” or “good citizen” undefined, employs vague or ambiguous diction, or neglects to expand on learning standards in an accessible way is leaving the definition of crucial civic concepts to the discretion of the teacher, which could result in harmful portrayals of good citizenship (Love, 2019). Specific definitions of civics concepts could also be harmful in the way they define good citizens or civic dispositions in alignment with ideologies of domination and marginalization (Love, 2019). Sufficient specification in defining terms such as those identified above would employ comprehensible language that acknowledges the fluidity and complexity of each concept in inclusive and just ways (Sassen, 2002).
A state that provides excellent specificity and explanation regarding all terms, learning outcomes, and content standards would allow educators to effectively teach the material specified in the civics curriculum. It is not excellent if educators must look elsewhere or to their own discretion for clarification on the meaning of relevant terms or desired learning outcomes. The rationale behind this scale is that the language and terms of state standards must be specific for local educators to know how to frame and teach the material.
The measure of the accessibility, or lack thereof, for local teachers concerns the way that the state indicates the material should be taught and the resources provided for educators to utilize. A state that does not provide educators with any supplemental material on how to structure units or create relevant lessons leaves the details of civic education to the discretion of local districts and school sites without sufficient resources to ensure effective implementation (Shapiro & Brown, 2018). A state could make generalized suggestions about how to approach civic education, but not provide sufficient information for educators on how to move towards each desired educational outcome through meaningful learning practices, such as participatory or interactive models, that are characteristic of high-quality civics education (Hansen, Levesque, Valant, & Quintero, 2018).
States that clearly guide educators on the implementation of the civics curriculum by including frameworks, resources, or supplemental materials for unit and lesson planning give educators more concrete tools to achieve the delivery of high-quality civic education. The rationale behind this scale is that standards and frameworks must be accessible to local educators for the state curriculum to be consistently effective in reaching students.
The measure of the clarity of implementation guidelines of civics education standards concerns the degree to which the state clarifies how and what material should be taught. If a state does not provide administrators with clarification on how to implement the curriculum or in what grade level to teach each learning objective, local districts and classroom educators must structure units themselves (Stern et al., 2021). When standards are presented in grade bands without clarification of when to approach them or how to increase the complexity as the grade band levels progress, educators and administrators must guess as to how to keep students engaged while meeting the standards.
A state that clearly guides administrators on the implementation of the civics curriculum would include specific recommendations for when and how to approach each topic and learning objective (Stern et al., 2021). The frame of assessment for this measure can be thought of as whether a local administrator could structure a schoolwide curriculum based solely on the state standards. The rationale behind this scale is that without effective implementation, essential civic learning may be withheld from students’ access.
The measure of the prominence of civics education in the greater K-12 curriculum concerns the way that civics education is presented within the K-12 state curriculum and whether it is integrated with other subjects. This measure is informed by the reality that higher rates of youth civic engagement are correlated with the prioritization and requirement of civics and government courses in curricula (Shapiro & Brown, 2018). A disregard for civic education would be visible in a curriculum that does not define a strand of civics education within a greater curriculum, such as social studies, nor provides or requires stand-alone courses specifically regarding civics education. At the K-8 level, it is common to integrate a strand of standards for civics education within a greater curriculum, while at the high school level it is common to provide one stand-alone course in civics education specifically.
If a state provides more than one single-subject civics course or identifies integrated standards for civics education in high school, it is exceptional. Civics standards that are presented as key parts of a K-12 social studies curriculum would represent adequate prominence within the larger curriculum framework. The rationale behind this scale is that relevant civics education should be prominent as an integrated and designated topic within a K-12 social studies curriculum in order to effectively develop civic knowledge and engagement in students.
The measure of the requisites for civics education considers whether civics education as a mandatory or optional subject along with the statewide graduation requisites for civics education. If a state does not consider civics education to be mandatory and does not require students to take a civics education course as part of the mandatory state curriculum, students are not guaranteed to receive any civic education at all. A state that considers civics education to be a mandatory part of the state curriculum but only in the form of a semester-long course that focuses singularly on the structures and functions of the U.S. government deprives students of the opportunity to develop and practice civic engagement skills during the years in which they are approaching full legal citizenship (Lin, 2013; Peterson, 2019).
Ideally, civic education would be embedded into the entire K-12 curriculum and present at every grade level. Research by Shapiro and Brown (2018) reveals that higher rates of civic engagement among youth are correlated with the prioritization of civics courses and AP U.S. government within state curricula. Furthermore, requisite civic education would ensure all students the opportunity to practice civic agency from their position as youth citizens (Payne et. al., 2019).When consistent and comprehensive civics education is a mandatory part of the state curriculum, civics is validated as a crucial and inseparable part of general education. The rationale behind this measure is that students should receive ongoing preparation in civic engagement before graduating high school as legal full citizens.
The measure of the form(s) of assessment for civic knowledge and capabilities evaluates the degree to which assessments for civic education are relevant to and indicative of effective civic learning. Civic education should be assessed to the degree that local districts and school sites could evaluate the effectiveness of their current implementation of civic education. We question whether there are requirements in civic education for graduating students, and what kind of means or tools are used for assessing the fulfillment of civic education requirements. If a form of assessment for civic education is required to graduate, we investigate what the test actually measures and requires of students. According to the National Education Association (NEA), “putting so much attention on rote memorization actually diminishes the likelihood that students will develop more meaningful civic skills” (Litvinov, 2017). Thus, If the test mirrors the USCIS assessment, it has little relevance to measures of civic engagement or applicable civic knowledge.
Ideally, civic education would be assessed through formal project-based assessments as well as embedded informal assessments regarding the ways students practice civic agency within their classroom and school community. Assessments should align with the goal to improve the quality of civic learning. Requirements of students could center on students’ own civic agency and interest or be geared towards meeting the learning objectives identified in the standards, but ideally students would be required to demonstrate a practice of civic engagement and agency that is meaningful to them.
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